Newly-elected Paraguayan president Horacio Cartes conducted his first official visit to Uruguay in a campaign to restore good relations with neighboring countries and fellow members of MERCOSUR - the South American diplomatic and trading bloc. Immediately after Cartes began his presidential term, he has been highly engaged and pragmatic in promoting his country’s potential to foreign investors. This is unlike any other president who has ruled Paraguay in the last 24 years.  Even though Asunción continues to be outside of the MERCOSUR trade bloc,  Cartes’ numerous official visits have shown a highly positive and proactive foreign policy that sooner or later should improve Paraguay’s national image and thus attract strategic investment  to the Guaraní and Spanish-speaking country. 
 
In their official meeting on October 25, Cartes and President José Mujica agreed to further strengthen bilateral ties and ratified their respective governments’ willingness to work intensely in the areas of trade, industrial and cultural cooperation, while respecting the mutual interests, reciprocity and values of friendship.  
 
Both leaders underlined the excellent relations between the two countries which are instituted upon common ideas, regional economic development, integration of transportation logistics, and above all the aspirations towards integrating both nations in a globalized economy.
 
As President Cartes concluded his official visit, he joined his Uruguayan counterpart to give a joint press statement that encompassed all areas of mutual cooperation in the fields of economic development, politics, commerce, education and culture.   President Mujica paid particular emphasis to the traditional and historical ties that exist between both countries dating back in 1820 when the father of Uruguayan nationhood, José Gervasio Artigas, was hosted by Paraguay’s dictator Dr. Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia in Asunción and continued to live there in exile until his death 30 years later.   Mujica reiterated his nation’s interest in developing its infrastructure and his desire to work with Asunción in order to iron out differences and better defend their mutual interests in the region and beyond.  The creation of new workplaces as a source of eradicating poverty and reduction of unemployment,as well as respect for human rights, were additional items of discussion between the two leaders.
 
In 2008, Asunción signed a bilateral agreement with Montevideo on commercial air transportation, which guaranteed open skies for airline companies operating in both countries.  Starting next year both parties will renew this agreement and Montevideo will have an airline that will conduct commercial and cargo flights to Asunción.  
 
On the other hand, social development and the renewal of the mixed committee on the war against drugs was part of the discussion; this committee is expected to meet in the first quarter of 2014.
 
Commercial exchange was an important item in the bilateral agenda, being considered a great source of employment and industrialization of both nations’ economies.  In this context, Cartes was in agreement with Mujica towards establishing a bilateral commercial and industrial commission that would address a sustainable and a balanced growth in bilateral trade.
 
According to President Cartes, “Paraguay considers Uruguay as a strategic ally in relation to logistics, river transportation and picking up momentum in order to increase the presence of the two nations’  products in international markets. The Uruguayan government has allowed the development two free trade zones at Montevideo and Nueva Palmira in order to encourage greater circulation of goods coming from Paraguay.” The port of Montevideo is expected to expand and very soon will have new unloading docks due to a growing demand for service provided to shipments originating from Paraguay.    
 
Additionally, the foreign ministers of Paraguay and Uruguay will conduct a series of meetings in order to facilitate the implementation of a dynamic bilateral agenda, focused on commerce, culture, education and logistical infrastructure.  In this context, the Paraguay – Paraná intergovernmental committee was established and will serve as a technical body that will address logistical issues and transportation of shipments in the Paraná River that originate in Paraguay as well as expand port infrastructure in Montevideo by building a deep water port with access in the Atlantic.  
 
The meeting in Montevideo with Cartes will bring the two countries closer and certainly has opened the doors for Mujíca to visit Asunción for the fourth time since he became Uruguay's president in 2010.
 
Spero columnist Peter Tase is an author and translator who analyzes trade and diplomatic issues.

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